“A Woman’s Place is in the House...And the Senate”: On the Record Number of Women Running for Congress in 2018

Just under a century has passed since women were first allowed to vote in the United States. In 1920, the required number of states finally voted to ratify the 19th Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination on the account of sex. Now, in 2018, a record number of women are running for Congress to fill seats in the same institutions that once excluded them from the voter rolls. It hasn’t been an easy ride, and we still have a long way to go.

Where We’ve Been

In 1917, Jeanette Rankin became the first woman ever to serve in Congress, as a member of the House of Representatives. It would be another 15 years before Hattie Caraway, the first woman elected to the Senate, made her way to Washington. Now, if that sounds embarrassingly recent, listen to this: it wasn’t until 1968—50 years ago—that Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman to serve in Congress. No black woman, or any other woman of color, was elected to the Senate until Carol Mosely-Braun won her race in 1992, 26 years ago. Here are some more depressing statistics: In 1989, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Latina woman in Congress, and Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to be Speaker of the House in 2007.¹

What does this information tell us? Historically, women, and especially women of color, have faced significant obstacles in getting elected to Congress. Unfortunately, this is still true. Despite making up more than half the population of the U.S., women currently make up about one-fifth of Congress: 19.4% of the House and 21% of the Senate.² The Washington Post reports that for every woman who holds political office in America, there are three men. In 2018, there are still 21 states that have never elected a woman to the Senate and five that have never had a female representative in the House.³

What, besides blatant sexism and racism, are the reasons for this disparity? For one thing, women tend to be more hesitant to run than men do. Susan Collins, a senator from Maine, has remarked that while many qualified women have told her they don’t feel quite ready to be a candidate, she has “never, ever” heard the same from a man.⁴ Another reason is that women generally have to be more qualified than their male counterparts in order to convince voters that they will be successful. In 2016, Medium found that 81% of female candidates for Senate had a postgraduate degree, compared to 53% of male Senate hopefuls.⁵

Where We Are Now

But, hey! There’s some good news! This year, a record-breaking number of women are running for Congress. All 435 House seats and 35 of 100 Senate seats are up for election in 2018, and according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 262 of those candidates are women and 184 of them non-incumbent challengers.⁶ Some have attributed this so-called “pink wave” to Donald Trump’s 2016 win, and the subsequent mobilization of activists across the country, which is evidenced by events like the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement.

To name just a few of these women: there’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old activist who beat out incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th district. Another is Ayanna Pressly, who won her primary against another incumbent male (of 10 years) and may become Massachusetts’ first female African American representative. I’d be remiss not to mention Mikie Sherill, working mother, ex-Navy pilot, and all-around badass who is running in my home district, the NJ-11th. Some more good news: studies show that when women do decide to run, they typically win at the same rate as male candidates.⁷ The issue, then, is that not enough women choose to run. But as we can see, this is changing.

Most of the women running in 2018 are Democrats (202 compared to 60 Republicans)⁶, but studies show that whatever their party, women in Congress are more likely than their male counterparts to pay attention to issues that affect women directly.

Where We’re Going

There is still a lot of history to be made. Rashida Tlaib, running in Michigan’s 13th District, would be the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress. Sharice Davids, running in the Kansas 3rd, would be Kansas’ first openly gay representative and one of few Native American women to have served in Congress.⁸ By the way, we’ve still never had an openly transgender member of Congress, but there’s hope: last year, Danica Roem won her race to become the first trans woman to serve in a state legislature, as a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates for the 13th district.  

So, who’s on the ballot for Kenyon students? This year, 11 women in Ohio are running for the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, no women are running for national Congress in Kenyon’s district, the Ohio 7th, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support female candidates in neighboring districts! These women include Shawna Roberts, a Democrat running in the 6th, and Dr. Vanessa Enoch, a Democrat for Ohio’s 8th district.

Furthermore, there are a few women running for state legislature in our area. Vote local, people! These include Louise Valentine, running as a Democrat in State Senate District 19, and Kathleen Tate, a Democrat running for the Ohio House of Representatives in District 68.⁹

So like I said, we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way left to go. The Midterm election is November 6th, 2018. Please vote.                  

 

Sources:

  1. “Firsts for Women in Congress.” Handbook to American Democracy: Foundations of American Democracy, Facts On File, 2012. History, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=17313&itemid=WE52&articleId=361189. Accessed 16 Sept. 2018.

  2. “Women in the U.S. Congress.” American History Almanac, Facts On File, 2016. History, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=17313&itemid=WE52&articleId=362021. Accessed 16 Sept. 2018.

  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/politics/women-running-for-office/?utm_term=.14a283268a8b

  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/us/politics/collins-ernst-klobuchar-heitkamp.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article&region=Footer

  5. https://medium.com/@BallotReady/women-running-for-senate-more-qualified-than-men-3e23a0484a99

  6. http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/potential-candidate-summary-2018#house

  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/upshot/the-problem-for-women-is-not-winning-its-deciding-to-run.html

  8. http://time.com/5361122/women-congress-2018-elections-record/

  9. https://ballotpedia.org/Sample_Ballot_Lookup#address=106+gaskin+ave+gambier+ohio+43022&election=2018-11-06

Image Credit: 1, 2, Zoe Packel